Traditional wrestling among men is a common tradition in Western Africa, particularly in Igbo culture. In fact, many people consider wrestling a male dominated sport used as entertainment for people of higher classes (Achebe, 3). Wrestling was a way to communicate to tribes that spoke different languages, to come together peacefully and indulge themselves in the intense moments of a match. It also serves as a form of entertainment, whereby the village head chief and his chieftains sat in the first few rows and the villagers gathered at the village square perimeter to watch. A young man who emerges victorious in any match is respected and admired by all. Another reason that wrestling was such an essential part of Igbo culture is that it was a test of manhood and stark masculinity. It appears that wrestling is a traditional sport played within the Igbo people just for entertainment, but it actually is a custom to obtain reverence amongst their tribe and establish masculinity.
Wrestling matches in the Igbo culture connected ideas of prowess, pride, and honor to an individual and its village. “As a young man of eighteen, he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat”(Achebe, 3). Okonkwo, at the beginning of the novel, has established a reputation and has gained respect from just winning a pivotal match against another villager, which leads to his accumulation of female suitors and acreage for yam planting. Also, pinning competitors against other villages suggest this idea that wrestling can be very decisive if someone wins, because for one, it shows that their tribe has gained not just territorial respect, but a superiority status and that the winning wrestler can take charge of the clan and lead the villagers. “Okonkwo’s fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan (Achebe, 3)”. Okonkwo became a rising leader through beating Amalinze the Cat, and thus his victory solidified his place in society. His fame growing like bushfire also shows the powerful effect wrestling has on the Igbo people when a wrestling champ is announced.
It can possibly place someone on the top of the social hierarchy and allow for one to be more proximate towards the Gods. Even though wrestling is interpreted as a ritual, pride and respect can be easily gained through a pin or defeat of an opponent. “He became well known throughout the nine villages…because he had brought honor to his village by throwing…the Cat” (Achebe, 3). Okonkwo’s success as a wrestler is also equated to his physical prowess, which has also led to his fame. ” As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with the kings” (Achebe, 8). This suggests that even though Okonkwo rose to prominence at a young age, wrestling does not discriminate amongst age groups. It shows that anybody, especially young boys, can become famous and acquire titles. Achebe also uses wrestling to portray the importance of strength and masculinity associated with the men of Umuofia and Okonkwo.
He gives us this illustration that wrestling produces alpha-males, whose attributes revolve around strength and love of violence which encapsulates their masculinity. ” To show affection was a sign of weakness, the only thing worth demonstrating was strength” (Achebe, 28). This shows that even though Okonkwo feels that strength is the way to raise and teach his sons to be masculine and to be successful men, he also feels that a sign of weakness is effeminate. A sign of weakness is attributed to a losing fighter in a match which is deemed as unsuccessful, not prosperous and not worthy to gain female suitors or acquire titles. This also indicates that wrestling played a role in Okonkwo’s view of how he looked at his sons, especially Nwoye because he wants him to a strong man who understands that strength will lead to prosperous life and not weakness and failure. “No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children he was not really a man” (Achebe, 53). This complicates the idea that just because your famous and held in high esteem, does not mean you will be strong and masculine amongst your family and your people. This suggests that Okonkwo has gained his strength and power through wrestling and not just his popularity.
By understanding Okonkwo, both traits (strength and masculinity) should be acknowledged through wrestling, just as gaining respect. “Not really a man” (Achebe, 53), suggests weakness and failure, that can be attributed to losing a match which could look unfavorable for the clan. This also denotes that his father, Unoka, was not really a man because he could not maintain stability in the household and could not gain the respect like Okonkwo had. The style of Okonkwo’s storytelling is based on his experiences and success as a wrestler, and traits men should have in their clan.
” So Okonkwo encouraged the boys to sit with him in his obi, and he told them stories of the land-masculine stories of violence and bloodshed” (Achebe, 53). Not only are the stories based on warfare, they also have some influences from Okonkwo’s matches, in which blood would have been present and violence would have been evident between both competitors. In order to for his children to be successful and masculine, telling stories based on wrestling and warfare can give them the idea that winning and brutality can lead to a great life, and not giving in to failure and losing. Also, wrestling plays a role in establishing suitors for females and producing potential marriages based on winners of the tournaments and matches. If a woman has many suitors, a wrestling tournament could be the deciding factor as to whom she would marry and take home as a husband. “There was no festival in all the seasons of the year which gave her as much pleasure as the wrestling match.
Many years ago when she was the village beauty Okonkwo had won her heart by throwing the Cat in the greatest contest within living memory” (Achebe, 39). Achebe is illustrating the fact that females like Ekwefi, find the festival season very attractive and popular, because it is the time of the year for the intertribal wrestling matches and also the potential to find suitors and become married. This is also the time where women could potentially earn anklets indicating the titles of their husband or potential partner based on winning matches, which could also lead to a more respected family unit. “She was the village beauty Okonkwo had won her heart by throwing the Cat,” suggest that not only winning matches swoons the heart of the mate, but defeating an opponent that was the heavy favorite or beating them in such an aggressive manner, can sway a female to be attracted to the winner even more. “Had just married his third wife” (Achebe, 8).
This suggests that Okonkwo, has gained more wives due to the fact that he was highly respected in the clan and that he was victorious in the wrestling ring to attract more female companions. The more wives you had acquired was sometimes based on the number of matches won, which lead to moving up in the social hierarchy (Achebe, 39). If Okonkwo was a poor wrestler he would not have a single wife, due to the fact that wrestling also shows how masculine and strong you are, and the loser does not have those capabilities. “She (Anasi) wore the anklet of her husband’s titles” (Achebe, 20). The anklet represents a trophy or award earned by Okonkwo, through warfare, wrestling and other things.
The anklet is worn by one of the wives and it indicates the title of the warrior. No anklet represents an unsuccessful man, not able to respected throughout the tribe. In the Ibo village, wrestling matches signified the passage from childhood into manhood, in which one takes on leadership of the clan. The boys who win, earn a plethora of respect and praise for displaying strength and masculinity. Not only does wrestling create massive crowds of onlookers to enjoy the moment, it also creates stability for the tribe through the winners and produces leaders who can take care of families and protect the clan from invaders. The cultural practice of wrestling in Nigeria is at the core of their existence and continues to hold in place stories and values, that have been passed down to each generation.
Wrestling generated an understanding of oration and fostered community throughout the tribe that will always be practiced and venerated.